Janka wins Beaver Creek super combi
Aspen, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – The super combined at the Birds of Prey seems to be a Swiss thing.
Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht won the event two years ago when it was last run at Beaver Creek, and Friday his teammates Carlo Janka and Didier Defago went 1-2 in the 2009 Birds of Prey super combined.
Janka, the defending super-combined world champion, picked up his third career World Cup win with a time of 2 minutes, 32.26 seconds, 0.43 seconds ahead of Defago. Croatia’s Natko Zrncic-Dim was third in 2:32.75.
And since Albrecht is still recovering from a dreadful crash last season in Kitzbuehel, Austria, he’s not far from the Swiss Team’s collective mind.
“He wished my good luck for the race,” Janka said. “He went home Thursday and he watched the race maybe at home. It’s nice to win here after Daniel won here two years ago. I think the Swiss team can get some good results and make it easier for him to come back to the World Cup.”
After a summer when an mysterious virus seemed to sap his energy and diminish his offseason training, the 23-year-old Janka is on a tear to start the season.
Combining Friday’s win with bronzes in the Soelden, Austria, giant slalom and the Lake Louise, Alberta, downhill and a sixth in super-G also in Canada, he’s taken the early lead in the overall. Despite the quick start, Janka was quick to point out that it’s early in the season.
Janka’s path to the top of the Birds of Prey podium went through a superb downhill run in the morning. He finished third with a time of 1:44.51. That put him in prime position, given that Janka was a better slalom skier than the two country men he trailed – Defago and Didier Cuche.
Skiing third-to-last, Janka laid down a slalom run of 47.75 seconds, the ninth fastest afternoon time, to take the lead for good. He watched Cuche, a speed specialist, gamely ski to 18th, and then got a little bit of a scare from Defago, who ran a 48.50 in the slalom.
“I know that Didier Cuche is not the best slalom racer, but he made a good slalom for him,” Janka said respectfully to some good-natured chuckles after the race. “Didier Defago is a good slalom skier and he sure had a good performance today. I was a bit scared.”
France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange finished fourth in 2:32.83, followed by Austria’s Romed Baumann (2:32.92). Norway’s Aksel Lund-Svindal, Austria’s Benjamin Raich, France’s Julien Lizeroux, Norway’s Lars Elton Myhre and Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta rounded out the top 10.
Americans Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht had podium hopes going into the slalom, while teammate Ted Ligety was looking to move up from the 24th position after the downhill. Only Weibrecht ended up finishing the race – in 19th – turning into the surprise of the day for the home crowd.
After blistering the downhill, skiing from the 48th bib into fifth place, the Lake Placid, N.Y., native was understandably out of his element in the slalom, having trained the discipline only three days during the summer and once Thursday in preparation for Friday’s race.
Ligety, Miler and several other competitors went out just after Red Tail.
Defago is better known as a speedster, but a change of coaches in the offseason and a renewed commitment to slalom led him to enter in Friday’s super combi.
“For me, it is important to make a good run in the downhill, but I know I can also make good runs in slalom,” Defago said. “I don’t think about the podium, but in the top 10 is, for sure, possible. If you do a good downhill run and a slalom run, and the slalom guys are not so far from you, it’s possible. There were a lot of guys going out in the slalom.”
While there was the predictable carnage in the slalom run, Defago, by no means, looked like a duck out of water when it come to bashing the gates in the afternoon. He recorded the 10th-fastest time in the slalom, and was able to make up a bit of ground on the bottom half of the course, where others lost precious seconds.
What’s more, Defago took fourth in the 2007 Worlds in the super combined in Are, Sweden, and has numerous top-10s in the SC during his career.
Defago built his lead by winning the downhill session of the event with a time of 1:44.19, which bodes well for Saturday’s downhill.
When it comes to Croatia and alpine skiing, it’s generally been all about the Kostelics – Janica and Ivica. So is Croatia ready for a new face in skiing?
“I’m ready,” Zrncic-Dim joked.
“Kostelic is a great guy and I’m really sad he didn’t race today. He injured his back again and I hope he will come back very soon. It’s really hard to come out from shadow of (the) Kostelics because both Ivica and Janica are great skiers and good (athletes). I am happy that I am doing something so that my results can be recognized.”
Though it wouldn’t be fair to call Zrncic-Dim a slalom specialist – most of his podiums are in the super combi – the Croat seemed to take the path of the slalomer to the podium.
He stayed within 1.46 seconds of the lead in the downhill with a time of 1:45.66 and then crushed the slalom, posting the best time of the day with a 47.10.
Birds of Prey continues Saturday with the downhill at 11 a.m.
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